Alternative Routes to the Inca Trail
I know that knowing Machu Picchu is the dream of many, and even more so to get there as the Incas went there, walking the Inca Trail. The Incas over the years built an elaborate and extensive system of trails, known as the Qhapac Ñan, that connected all of Tahuantinsuyo.The famous Inca Trail is one of the sections of the Qhapac Ñan, which linked Machu Picchu with Cusco. This route is the most popular among trekkers who visit Machu Picchu. But there are many other ways to get to Machu Picchu on foot, which are less well known but pass through beautiful Andean landscapes and communities.
The first thing we have to say about the alternative routes is that they offer, just like the classic Inca Trail, beautiful landscapes. But that's not all. As many of you will already know, to do the Inca Trail you need a permit from the Peruvian Ministry of Culture. These permits are limited and easily exhausted. Unlike the traditional Inca Trail, the alternative routes do not require this special permit to be walked. This means that, unlike the Inca Trail, you will never run out of space for your adventure. Now let's start with your options:
The Salkantay trek
Sallqantay is Quechua and means 'wild' or 'untamed' and we can't think of a better way to describe it. The Salkantay route can be done in 4 or 5 days. You walk through the mountains until you cross the Salkantay pass, the highest point of the route, at 4600 meters above sea level, and then you enter the high jungle area. This is the most popular route after the Inca Trail but requires a better physical condition. The Humantay Lagoon is one of the jewels you will visit during this hike.
The Inka Jungle Trek
This is a totally different alternative and is designed for those who like adventure sports. In addition to the stunning transition landscapes from the Andes to the high jungle, the trekking includes zip-lining, rafting and mountain biking.
Trekking in Lares
The special thing about this trail is that you will be able to enjoy nature better, because most people choose the Inca Trail or the Salkantay. This trail, besides the beautiful views of mountains, lakes, and hot springs, has a more cultural outlook. During the hike you will meet the communities of the Lares Valley, known for their excellent textile skills. There are 4 day and 2 day routes.
This route does not lead to Machu Picchu, but to another great Inca citadel: Choquequirao. I did this trekking many years ago, when research on this archaeological site was just beginning. Like all Inca architecture, it is at the top of the mountains, in perfect harmony. The classic route is 4 days in total, 2 of going and 2 of return, if you want to join it with Machu Picchu it is necessary 8 days in total.
Machu Picchu is without a doubt one of the best known attractions in Peru, but there are many more places to visit. Combining a visit to the citadel with a trekking excursion is a good way to enjoy nature and learn more about the local culture. The walks allow you to get to know more communities.